It was my periodic turn on the rotation at the half-way house. Ever so often I show up to bring some devotional time to our rag-tag bunch. We’re comprised of ex-cons, those just out of drug rehab, homeless guys, and some on hospice. And the staff, several who need the spiritual focus perhaps more than anyone. And Frank the dog, a plump mutt who once roamed the streets of Fulton, redirected to Columbia by some turn of canine fate. Frank used to be all bones. Now he eats scraps of pizza that fall off the table even though there are big signs all around that say, “Don’t feed the dog.” Frank is fat. People have been feeding the dog.
I’m early. I thought for sure they were to start gathering at 7:00 p.m. But no, it’s at 8. So they’ll start early, maybe 7:30. We wait. But as we wait, one guy comes in and asks if we’re really watching the basketball game on the tube. No, we’re not. Good, says he, because I bought a cheap DVD just today and want to try it out. He puts it on and I am soon to discover that it’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Movie. The guys wander through the living room and start guessing the names of all of them. Of course, there’s Alvin, that’s obvious. And Simon and, let’s see, what’s the other one? Theodore, that’s it. And Dave is the human. Pretty soon we’re all staring at Alvin and the Chipmunks, even Frank is glancing away from his vigilant watch of the table. Everytime Dave screams, “Alvin!” Frank the dog looks up like maybe Dave is calling his name.
One fellow, Mr. Blanket, darts back and forth into the living room to watch Alvin. Mr. Blanket talks to people we can’t see. He says things like, “NOW we’re getting ridiculous!” But he’s really preoccupied with a very neat stack of blankets. He is very protective of his blankets. In fact, he finds a cardboard box that is too small to hold them and tries to force them in. Over and over, he tries different approaches, trying to make the blankets conform to a box that is much too small. Until one of the other guys says in ear-shot of one of the staff, “I probably shouldn’t say anything.” What he shouldn’t say is that Mr. Blanket has been hoarding blankets from all over the house. When the staff brings it up to him he just frames it as a justice issue. But it doesn’t seem to be justice for everyone, just him. Someone has to be about the community with some fashion, with plenty of blankets, says he.
So we’re finally in a circle. And it’s my turn and I start by telling a story on myself that illustrates the truth, “You can’t get there from here.” In other words, all the detours we encounter along the way are essential, for unknown reasons at the time, because you have to go through them to find where you really need to go. And the Magi were like that, I said, seeking by a star and then returning home by another way, the past ways of travel barred from them. What courage and trust that takes. And every place in-between here and there is as important as the final destination; it all matters.
Mr. Blanket is packing his box the whole time. But the happy new owner of Alvin and the Chipmunks says, “Maybe you can’t know the good until you’ve passed through the bad.” And the guy with his eyes closed on the couch you thought wasn’t listening says, “Each place tells us something we need to know for the next place.”
And Frank the dog watches with his patient eye. He knows about waiting. He waited a long time in Fulton on the streets. And now he’s here with pizza on the floor and a log on the fire, people hugging on him.
Sometimes you just can’t get there from here.